Smart Senior, the business venture/brainchild of four Lake Forest High School (LFHS) juniors, started as a labor of love. The students, who found themselves virtually unable to communicate with their grandparents, developed Smart Senior, a tutorial program for older adults who want to master the technology and language of "new" communications. Here, the students are the teachers, and the true subject? Using a smart phone or computer to help seniors stay connected to their friends and family.
The SmartSenior principals, Katie Hubbard, Jack Keil, Kate Reinhardt and Sasha Sklarov, are enrolled in teacher Phil LaScala's Business Incubator class at LFHS, a course designed to excite students about becoming entrepreneurs while learning the fundamentals of starting and growing a business.
"We could not communicate with our grandparents because they are not comfortable with using technology," said Katie Hubbard. "That was our inspiration for building SmartSenior." But could SmartSenior teach older adults to gain familiarity with social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, and communications vehicles like text messaging or FaceTime?
The answer is unequivocally yes. Katie and her co-founders realized their idea had roots after conducting extensive research, which indicated that tech fluency would provide older adults greater connectivity and reduced isolation and would, therefore, be an overall health benefit for this audience.
So, when it came time to conduct a beta class, SmartSenior kept it local! "Innovative resident programming is a hallmark of our community," said Libby Christianson, director of community programs, Lake Forest Place. "A continuing education course, taught by local high schoolers? We all knew it would be a win-win!" And the student teachers agree: deeper technology skills have brought joy to Lake Forest Place residents, which demonstrates that this business model is viable.
Next steps for the SmartSenior team include further development of their business idea to gear up for Pitch Week, where student teams pitch their product/service idea to actual investors (in a format similar to that of the television program "Shark Tank"), with the possibility of being awarded funding that will help turn their business plans into reality during their senior year. Of course, some of their biggest supporters will be the grateful residents of Lake Forest Place, who are eager to show their support for the SmartSenior founders – at Pitch Week and beyond!